Reporting on the Nile: Pulitzer Center journalists explore geopolitical tensions and environmental challenges

November 08, 2023
International journalists and Pulitzer fellows Ann Neumann and Fredrick Mugira discussed their reporting projects on the environmental, political, and social implications of the degradation of the Nile River at a Northwestern Qatar community event.
The event, hosted by the Journalism and Strategic Communication Program, is part of a long-standing partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting that includes annual visits from international reporters. It also comes as part of a series of initiatives aimed at helping students in the Journalism and Strategic Communication Program harness their skills and engage with global issues of relevance to them.
Neumann, journalist and the author of The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America, began the talk by discussing the role of investigative journalism in examining the geopolitical implications of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the intricate web of relations and potential conflicts arising from the construction and operation of the dam. Using insights from her project "Hydropower: A dam on the Nile roils democratic relations in the Horn of Africa," she said, “Egyptians look at their neighbors from the south as a threat to their future—not because they come looking for jobs, but because they come from Ethiopia, a country that, in their eyes, has control over the waters of the Nile.”
Despite the rising geopolitical tensions between the two countries over the dam filling, Neumann said Ethiopia is well into a multiyear plan to fill a massive reservoir behind the dam on the Blue Nile, “and Egypt is bitterly suspicious.” She added, “From the Ethiopian point of view, a modern dam is what will make their country a modern state. Egypt might even recognize that such development could lead to fewer refugees streaming north, but the vexing problem the dam presents is: Who will control the Nile?”
Similarly, Mugira, an award-winning water and climate change journalist, media trainer, and development communication specialist, examined the role of water journalism in Africa and how it contributed to unveiling critical stories related to water issues within the Nile Basin. In his presentation, he examined foreign investors' land grabs in the Nile River Basin as one of the issues uncovered by “InfoNile: Geodata journalism,” a cross-border collaboration and data-based reporting project he is leading.
Through water journalism, Mugira said his team has uncovered critical stories resulting from land grabs, like the forced marginalization of communities. “In every land deal, at least someone in local communities suffers, and families turn into casual laborers working on investors’ land that once belonged to them,” said Mugira. “Investors recap the vast majority of profiles, while the host countries are exploited of valuable resources, and the local people suffer [as they are] displaced to live in environmentally vulnerable places.”
Northwestern Qatar is a member of the Campus Consortium, a network of partnerships between the Pulitzer Center and colleges and universities to engage with students and faculty on the critical global issues of our time. Under this partnership, students at Northwestern Qatar receive grants to lead field reporting projects on critical issues around the world.